U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., has called on the Justice Department to investigate the Miami police department and its use of deadly force in the shooting deaths of seven black men since July.
The Associated Press reported that Wilson wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday to ask for a federal investigation. Wilson says only the federal government has the resources and independence to give “close, objective scrutiny” to the deaths.
A spokeswoman said the Justice Department was reviewing Wilson's letter.
Her call came as pressure mounts on city officials to take action in the matter and Police Chief Miguel Exposito began a series of closed-doors meeting with families of the victims.
The first meeting yielded no satisfactory answer for a grieving mother as to why a city officer shot and killed her son.
Sheila McNeil and 15 of her family members met with Chief Miguel Exposito Feb. 23 to hear his explanation as how her son Travis McNeil came to die from bullets fired by his police officers.
McNeil said afterwards that she went to the meeting “searching for answers” and came away dissatisfied.
Travis McNeil, 28, was fatally shot on Feb. 10 when he and his cousin Kareem Williams, 30, were pulled over by Miami police at the corner of North Miami Avenue and Northwest 75th Street. Both men were unarmed. He was the seventh black man killed by Miami police in seven months.
“It was all about him explaining police procedures,” McNeil said about the meeting with Exposito. “It was nothing personal. In fact, it was so impersonal that he could not look me in the face.”
McNeil said the chief was surrounded by his entourage during the meeting but her family had wanted a one-on-one session with him and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle “so there would be no pointing of fingers.”
“I think this is more about Exposito and what he knows he has to do, and not at all about the families,” McNeil said.
According to McNeil, Exposito told her family that he would “have no problem prosecuting the officer who did the shooting, but I’ll wait to see what happens with that.”
Richard Williams, whose brother DeCarlos Moore, was killed by police in a separate incident, said that his family was “finally contacted” by Miami police and will meet with Exposito in about two weeks. He had called South Florida Times to complain that the first time the family heard about a meeting with Exposito was on television news.
As with McNeil, the meeting will be closed and will take place at Miami police headquarters, 400 NW Second Ave., in downtown Miami, Williams said.
“We don’t know what to expect and were only told that up to eight of our family members could attend,” he said.
Moore, 36, was also unarmed when he was shot to death during a July 2010 traffic stop in Overtown.
CALLS FOR A NEW START
Miami City Commissioner the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II, who has been calling for Exposito to be fired, said the meetings “may or may not be a kind gesture. But that does not excuse the police chief for the type of culture that he set in the police department.”
If Exposito is sincere, Dunn said, he should dismantle the tactical police units that are the focus of community complaints. “Then we will really see where he stands,” Dunn said. Dunn spoke at a rally on Sunday at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Liberty City. The Rev. Dr. Billy W.L. Strange, Mount Calvary’s pastor, said that the community came together because “we are sick and tired of burying our brothers, fathers, sons and nephews” killed by Miami police.
“We came to seek a solution. We are not talking about every officer, just the bad cops,” Strange said.
The black community, he said, wanted to send this message to the Miami City Commission: “We will not tolerate it any more. Not every black man is a suspect. We cannot continue to have insensitive police officers that do not understand our culture policing our community.”
Black Miami residents, Strange said, feel intimidated by law enforcement personnel “and something is wrong with that picture.”
Florida NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze, addressing the gathering, said the community should come out and stand together for justice.
National Civil Rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton based in New York City was invited to speak at the rally but could not attend due to another pressing engagement.
Exposito was scheduled to discuss community and police relations at a meeting on Saturday at St. John Baptist Church in Overtown but that session was called off – for the third time – with no explanation and no new date was announced.
Calls to Miami Police Public Information Officer Commander Delrish Moss were not returned.
A community march is scheduled for this Thursday from Overtown to the Miami police headquarters. Marchers will call for more community policing, an investigation into the killings of the seven men and Exposito’s resignation.
Liberty City resident Leroy Weathers, 38, who attended the rally at Mount Calvary, described the gathering as “inspirational” but added, “Nothing is resolved and something needs to happen soon. We need answers and so do all the families.”
“I not only fear for my life but my son’s,” Weathers said. “We should not be afraid to walk around in our own backyard and fear [the police]. And it’s sad that we have to be extra careful. Neither of us has a police record, we are not criminals, but the cops aren’t checking or asking. They are shooting.”
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net